Livescore Thursday, April 25
1 Winning in the SEC is hard, which Georgia knows as much as anyone, and it just got way more difficult with the additions of Oklahoma and Texas. But no team has been as dominant as the Bulldogs since 2021. They’ve won two out of the last three national titles and went almost two whole years without losing a game prior to last season’s setback against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. With the way Kirby Smart recruits and develops, Georgia is set to be a mainstay on the national stage — especially since the bar for entry just got a little bit lower. 2 We’re talking about the College Football Playoff in its current format here, something that’s likely to change in 2026 and beyond under the new media rights agreement. But, for the next couple years at least, Ohio State is primed to take advantage of a new-look Big Ten. The Buckeyes loaded up on talent in the transfer portal and poached UCLA coach Chip Kelly to be their offensive coordinator, cobbling together one of college football’s most impressive offseasons. Ohio State’s biggest roadblock in recent years, Michigan, is reeling after the loss of Jim Harbaugh and an overwhelming amount of key contributors to the NFL. Of the conference newcomers, Washington and UCLA are breaking in new head coaches and USC is coming off an 8-5 season. Oregon is a team to watch given what it has coming back, but the Buckeyes are at least on par. It’ll be a make-or-break two years for Day, though he has a prime situation on which to capitalize. 3 Utah enters its inaugural Big 12 season in great shape with coach Kyle Whittingham calling the shots and super-senior quarterback Cam Rising back for another go-around. A lot of Utah’s outlook hinges on Rising’s recovery from a devastating knee injury and the Utes’ overall health after they were decimated by ailments in 2023. Though Utah has to play a solid Oklahoma State team on the road in 2024, it gets Arizona at home and avoids both of the Kansas schools during the regular season. Things stack up well for Utah to claim an automatic bid. 4 It’s been over three years since Clemson made its last CFP appearance, leading some to believe that Dabo Swinney is well past his prime. While the dynasty window may be closed, 2024 should be a return to form. The ACC is wide open, but on paper, the Tigers are poised to climb the mountain once more. Their defense is stacked with enough talent to return to that elite tier. The pairing of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley and starting quarterback Cade Klubnik should see some improvement after a first-season dud, and Phil Mafah is a bell-cow running back that can erase a lot of offensive issues with his reliability. It helps Clemson that Florida State’s losing a ton of talent, Miami hasn’t exactly been reliable under Mario Cristobal and Louisville was left with a roster overhaul that saw it bring in 26 transfers. 5 Remember, this is a list of teams in the best position to make the playoff, not how I think the actual rankings will play out. Liberty is the odds-on favorite for that fifth automatic bid given the expectation that it will run the table in Conference USA. It already picked up a major victory by convincing quarterback Kaidon Salter to turn away from the transfer portal. The Flames also return both featured running backs from the nation’s top rushing offense and a majority of starters from a defense that finished top-three in C-USA in both yards allowed and scoring. The out-of-conference schedule doesn’t feature any power conference opponents, so an undefeated season isn’t out of the question. 6 Oregon replaced uber-productive Bo Nix with uber-productive former Oklahoma and UCF starter Dillon Gabriel via the transfer portal, a move that profiles as one of the smoothest starting quarterback transitions in the entire nation. Gabriel, who fits Oregon’s system like a glove, has plenty of talent around him and a veteran offensive line that should give him tons of time to distribute the ball. Pair that with a defense that mixes returning talent with high-impact transfer additions, and Oregon has all the makings of a breakout team in its first season as a Big Ten school. 7 Notre Dame won’t get an automatic bid until it joins a conference, but it’s going to benefit mightily from being an independent program in 2024. The Fighting Irish have just one game against an opponent ranked inside Dennis Dodds’ pre-spring top 25 on their schedule, and that’s at home against Florida State. They open the season on the road against a Texas A&M squad that’s breaking in a new coach and close the year on the road against a Caleb Williams-less USC. Outside of those three toss-ups, Notre Dame is a guaranteed favorite in every game on its schedule. Hopes hinge on how much the offense can improve with Riley Leonard at quarterback and Mike Denbrock — who just produced a Heisman winner in Jayden Daniels — calling the shots. 8 Quarterback Quinn Ewers is back to lead an offense that will look almost entirely different. Texas has to replace its leading rusher and over 80% of its receiving production. In-house talent will step up at running back, while coach Steve Sarkisian hit the transfer portal hard to net three expected starting receivers (Isaiah Bond, Silas Bolden and Matthew Golden) and a potential starting tight end (Amari Niblack). The defense has some holes to fill as well, particularly along the line of scrimmage, but Sarkisian has recruited so well and Texas is carrying a lot of momentum into the SEC. 9 Given Lane Kiffin’s approach to the transfer portal, as well as other forms of recruiting, it’s clear that he’s gearing up for a big run in 2024. Alabama has held the Rebels back from doing just that in recent years, but Ole Miss avoids the Crimson Tide in both 2024 and 2025. Kiffin and Co. still have to play Georgia but get the Dawgs at home in 2024. On top of that, four of their five road games next season come against teams that finished the 2023 campaign with a losing record. 10 Can James Franklin finally break through? There’s certainly a couple things working in his favor. The Big Ten’s new scheduling format allows Penn State to step out from behind the shadows cast by Michigan and Ohio State. In fact, the Nittany Lions avoid the Wolverines entirely over the next two seasons, and they get Ohio State at home in 2024. Franklin knocked it out of the park with two new coordinator hires, adding Kansas’ Andy Kotelnicki to revitalize a stagnant offense with schematic creativity and former Indiana coach Tom Allen to maintain one of the Big Ten’s best defensive units. There’s a lot of production returning, including quarterback Drew Allar and one of the country’s best running back duos in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. At least 10 wins — a perfectly attainable goal for Franklin — in a conference like the Big Ten should be enough to secure one of 12 spots. 11 It’s been a rollercoaster first couple months for Kalen DeBoer. He’s had to deal with a roster overhaul, composing a staff and two offensive coordinator hires since taking over for the legendary Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide have lost key stars to the transfer portal, including the likes of Isaiah Bond, Caleb Downs and — for a very brief time, at least — Kadyn Proctor. Regardless, DeBoer inherits a roster with enough talent to compete in the SEC. He’s never had less than nine wins in a full 12-game season as a head coach. Given his ability to develop and get the best out of players around him, the Crimson Tide should be just fine early into DeBoer’s tenure. 12 This may be a controversial pick, but Missouri’s time to gun for the College Football Playoff is now. The Tigers may lose all-star running back Cody Schrader, but it’s hard to find a better QB-WR duo than Brady Cook and Luther Burden, who headlines an absolutely loaded group of wide receivers. Losing defensive coordinator Blake Baker to LSU was tough, but holding onto offensive counterpart Kirby Moore offsets that in a way. Plus, Missouri has arguably the most favorable schedule of any team in the SEC; Boston College is the only Power Four team in its non-conference slate, while Alabama is Missouri’s only conference opponent that had a winning record in SEC play last season. 13 It seems weird to place the defending national champions just outside the top 12, but Michigan has a lot to figure out before it hits the field in the fall. Harbaugh left for the NFL and a litany of assistants followed suit in departing the program. The Wolverines have a huge hole at QB they may need to address in the spring transfer period, and they’re losing their top two wide receivers, six offensive linemen with starting experience and seven starters on defense. UM had a proven track record of player development and steadily improved under Harbaugh. It’s on first-year coach Sherrone Moore to keep that going against some pretty steep odds. 14 Arizona is hot on Utah’s heels as an early Big 12 favorite in its transition from the Pac-12 despite an offseason filled with waves of change. Coach Jedd Fisch, fresh off leading the Wildcats to 10 wins, left for Washington to replace DeBoer, and he took 22 players with him. Despite that, Arizona held onto its two figureheads: quarterback Noah Fifita and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan. They are fantastic building blocks for first-year coach Brent Brennan, who did a good job replacing Arizona’s losses via the transfer portal. 15 This list is heavy on the Big 12, not because it’s a conference that will produce multiple at-large qualifiers, but because there’s such stiff competition for the conference title. Of the returning schools, Oklahoma State’s outlook seems like the most positive. The Cowboys bring back a wealth of offensive production, including an early Heisman Trophy favorite in running back Ollie Gordon II. They also have a ton of staff continuity with both coordinators back under Mike Gundy, who is closing in on 20 years in Stillwater. If the defense can improve from an inconsistent 2023, Oklahoma State will be a hard out for its conference opponents. 16 This will all come down to how Oklahoma acclimates in its first year as an SEC member. To compound an already difficult task, the Sooners will be breaking in an entirely new offensive line after losing five players with starting experience. Brent Venables nabbed four linemen from the transfer portal, and Oklahoma does have some veteran options that can push for more playing time. Having a coach like Bill Bedenbaugh to oversee things makes the overhaul easier. Otherwise, the Sooners look pretty solid across the board. Former five-star QB Jackson Arnold is stepping into the starting role on offense, and the defense should continue its upward trajectory with stars like Ethan Downs, Billy Bowman Jr. and Danny Stutsman back.

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